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Thursday, April 24, 2008

Led Zeppelin: Houses of the Holy

You're first question very well might be, "Why not the album with 'Stairway to Heaven' on it"? My answer is simple. I think it's a solid song, but too overplayed and too often credited as being their best song, usually by fair weather fans. I'm here to enlighten you to the fact that Led Zeppelin has many more great songs... better songs. Songs that blow "Stairway to Heaven" right out of the water. And lucky you, some of those songs can be found on this album. Yay! So grab your beverage of choice, sit back and enjoy the beauty that is Houses of the Holy.

The album begins with a track titled, "The Song Remains the Same" whose intro is enough to bring you right in. Back in the day, intros could entirely be their own song, they were so long. However, this one is moderate in length, building up as fast paced, vocal free music. As soon as the intro is over, the rhythm has switched to a much slower, much more mellow tempo, as Robert Plant begins to sing. The vocals are extremely mild for Plant, but very intricate and intriguing. The rapidness of pace quickly picks back up, and the slower parts of the song are seldom revisited throughout the track. With a guitar driven track from Led Zeppelin, you might expect it to sound similar to other songs of theirs, but it is completely original. A good beginning to Houses of the Holy. "The Rain Song" is my absolute favorite song by Led Zeppelin. Unlike the previous, this track is completely mellow in that it is a "drive on a rainy day" song... At times it might almost seem depressing, until you hear the synthesized strings in the background, that give it the perfect amount of lightheartedness... Just enough to keep you from falling asleep. This song is heavy in instruments, especially the acoustic guitar, and at times, is completely devoid of vocals. Please don't be fooled by this fact because when Plant does grace us with his voice, it's magical and brilliant. Although not as many vocals as instrumentals in this song, the vocals that are featured are enhancing. Probably the greatest surprise in this song, is the way that it begins to "lightly" rock out at the end, but only enough to leave you wanting more. At 7:39 it is their longest song on the album, but in my opinion, definitely the best.

"Over the Hills and Far Away" is simply fun. It begins with a crafty little diddy on the guitar. Several different guitar techniques are implemented here to begin a somewhat memorable intro taking you into the slower verse where Plant tries to draw you in with a little bit of softness, but also some spunk. The rest of his spunk is soon delivered as the track picks up in pace. This song is pretty heavy with guitars but it's a nice balance of electric and acoustic. One thing I love about Led Zeppelin is that you never really know what to expect with their music; it's extremely unpredictable. Case in point, "The Crunge". This is truly the weirdest song on this album, but again, one of my favorites. The rhythm in this song is so strange. It's consistent with only itself in that fact that listening to it makes you feel like you're lost in a time signature swamp. It's all over the place... but in a good way. Another great thing about this song, other than the obviously magnificent, almost Axel Rose-ish vocals, is the creative use of various sounds in the instrumentation. I can proudly say that I've never tried drugs, but I think if I had, this song would be a darn good reflection of my perceptions while under the influence. It's that bizarre. During the last minute of the song, I can best describe it by saying it's like listening to music while on a pogo stick, as it literally has that elastic sound. And what's with trying to find that confounded bridge?

The first time I ever heard the song "Dancing Days", I was listening to my new Stone Temple Pilots album, so you can imagine how shocked I was years later to learn that it was a Led Zeppelin cover. To be quite honest, I'm not sure which version I like better. I liken it to watching a movie that is about 80% better than the book from which it was adapted. Maybe that means I like the STP version better, but Zeppelin's sounds much like a first draft to me, though it was the original. I would encourage everybody to listen to this song and determine for themselves what they feel, but for me, it's likely to be second to STP. As for the next track, it can be summed up in two words, "The Shizzle". "D'Yer Mak'er" is one of the first Led Zeppelin songs that I ever heard and quite appropriately, was the reason I purchased this album. The words are "Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh... you don't have to go, oh, oh, oh, oh." and "I, i, i, i, i, i... all those tears I cried, oh, oh i, i." There are other variations of these lyrics that make up this song, but with it's abrupt percussion mixed with cheerful guitar melodies, and unusual lyrics, this song is not likely to be forgotten. I would doubt very seriously if it wasn't one of the best songs they ever wrote and if it doesn't become a favorite of any listener. It's creativity pushed to the extreme.

"No Quarter" though awesome musically, leaves me with a weird feeling. For one thing, Robert Plant sounds as if he's singing this whole song under water. The vocal effect is unlike others that I've heard, which scores huge points for originality, but as far as trying to win over fans, it's just a little too bizarre... and not in the good way that "The Crunge" is. I'd venture to say that it's probably my least favorite song on Houses of the Holy as it fails to capture much emotion from me. It's not bad and I figure that a lot of people will like this song... but I don't. The last song on this album is great and sounds like a true Led Zeppelin track. It's exactly what you'd expect to hear from them. You get Plant's stylistic vocals with their much more recognizable musical style of interesting electric guitar driven music. It's what I would typically consider a classic Led Zeppelin sound. As not to contradict my statement earlier, this is about as expected as you can get. In the middle of the song, there is a vocal breakdown which starts with one voice, but before long, there is a three part harmony. I think it's a great element to this seemingly traditional song. Other than a few "different" moments, this song sounds like a good ol' Zeppelin tried and true.

Houses of the Holy takes a few turns throughout it's 8 song course, but in the end, what you have is a unique, and extremely memorable Led Zeppelin album. If by this point, you're still missing "Stairway to Heaven", I'm sorry, and I might even pray for you, but all I can say is open your mind to a different kind of Led Zeppelin... you won't regret it. I have faith in you!

Key Tracks:

1. The Rain Song
2. The Crunge
3. D'Yer Mak'er

7 out of 10 stars

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